By Janet Hansen
Approximately 25 county and city officials, along with response team members and law enforcement officers met with the newly hired Ransom County Emergency Manager, Tricia Kriel, on Thursday morning, Feb. 24, to discuss flood preparedness.
Kriel went through a check list with those present. The first topic addressed was Lisbon’s levee situation. City engineer, Tracy Eslinger, Moore Engineering, explained that the current levees are at various levels, basically ranging from 15 to 17 feet. “The Highway 27 bridge floods when the river reaches 19.5 feet,” he stated. Most of the emergency levees in previous years have been built to protect the city to the 19 foot stage. It was mentioned that some of the levees have been removed for drainage purposes and will need to be filled back in.
Kriel asked about who the city contacts with for clay levee work. She was told that, since the current temporary levees will be allowed to remain in place until summer, it is expected that local contractors will be able to take care of raising, repairing, or maintaining the levees in preparation for the expected flood this spring. Eslinger stated that if any major levee raises are needed the Corps of Engineers does the hiring of a contractor. Pumps and a sand bag machine from a rental dealership in Fargo have already been spoken for by city officials and are ready to be picked up when needed.
Representatives from Fort Ransom stated that their levees appear to be in pretty good shape. Officials from Enderlin indicated that flood preparations have already been made and they do not expect to experience any big problems.
Kriel explained that if levees need to be built anywhere in the rural areas of the county, forms need to be filled out for FEMA reimbursement purposes.
When asked about removal of ice jams and debris near bridges, city officials stated that contractors with cranes have to be called upon to take care of those issues. Jim Lyons, chairman, Ransom County Water Board, reminded the group that the water board has a cost-sharing plan for such projects. However, Lisbon city leaders indicated that such projects still cost more than the city can afford. Ice jams sometimes occur near the railroad bridge in Lisbon, Kriel was told. Those jams are taken care of by the railroad.
The next item on Kriel’s list was rural sandbag needs. Kriel asked whether, in the past, sandbags have been ordered by the county or individual cities. County officials stated that the county has purchased sand bags in the past, but shared them with whomever needed them. A total of 25,000 sand bags were filled last year. Approximately 6,000 filled sand bags have been stored on pallets under a tarp since last spring’s flood. The stored bags will need to be thawed out before they can be used. Ransom County Road Supervisor Jerry Lamb reported that the county has 79,000 unfilled sand bags on hand.
It was reported that volunteers from both city and rural portions of the county have, in the past, come together to sandbag. Rural residents provide most of the trucks and trailers used to transport the filled bags. It was reported that, during the last two floods, more of the filled bags had gone to rural areas than to the city of Lisbon, since the city relies heavily on clay levees.
Kriel indicated that the Corps of Engineers has changed its policy and will expect payment for its help. Therefore, the cities and county need to rely heavily on volunteer help.
It is also very important, Kriel stated, to keep track of where the sand bags go. For instance, the city will only be reimbursed for sand bags used for city infrastructure. They will receive no reimbursement for those used to protect private residences or businesses.
George Bunn, chairman, Ransom County Board of Commissioners, asked how rural residents get sandbags. “Can they just go pick them up from the place where they are being filled in Lisbon?” he asked. “Do they have to pay for them when they pick them up?”
It was mentioned that some rural property owners purchase their own sand and bags instead of picking them up from the county. Kriel will check with state emergency management officials to find out more details about handling the dispersal of sand bags.
Kriel stated that it is necessary to certify borrow pits from which sand or clay is being obtained. If those pits have been used during a previous flood, it is still necessary to recertify them.
It was noted that Fort Ransom had obtained its own sand for filling sand bags last year instead of getting it through the county.
“It is very important to make a distinction between the county and cities and to document where things go,” commented Eslinger.
It was suggested that someone be put in charge of keeping track of where the sand bags go. Kriel will find out how detailed their account needs to be.
It was also emphasized that it is extremely important to keep track of volunteer hours. Kriel asked about a mutual agreement for the fire departments, since there has been a problem getting FEMA reimbursement for them in the past. Rachel Eppler, Lisbon City Auditor, stated that she has a copy of such an agreement.
Kriel asked Lamb if the county has sufficient signs and barricades for closed roads. Lamb stated that the county currently has 77 “Road Closed” signs and eight that indicate “Road Closed to Through Traffic.” Townships generally barricade their own roads but the county shares signs with the townships if it has signs available.
Discussion was held on how to get the word out when sand bag volunteers are needed. It was decided that public notices could be run on the radio, as well as city and county websites. It was suggested that a notice should be put in the Ransom County Gazette listing which radio or television stations will be carrying such announcements. Also, the school will be notified, as local students have made up the largest part of the sand bag filling crews.
Jerry Gemar, a member of the Lisbon City Council, stated that in 2008 the city got hundreds of volunteers of all ages to fill sandbags, while last year, few adults volunteered, so they relied almost totally on student help. He commented that in a crises situation volunteers generally show up.
The next topic of discussion was where to set up the sand bag filling operation. It was discussed that the Expo Building at the Ransom County Fairgrounds had been used before, but it had cost too much to have it cleaned afterward. Norm Hansen had talked to Lamb about using the old county shop. It was felt that local volunteers could clean that building after the sand bag operation was done. Lamb stated that the building is currently filled with machinery, but the machines can be moved. He stated that he had no problem with using that building for filling sand bags, but the final decision was up to the Board of Commissioners. He did caution the group that the ceiling in the old shop was too low to allow the sand to be dumped, so trucks would have to dump the sand outside, probably on the north end of the building.
March 15 was set as the tentative day to begin the sand bag filling operation.
Setting up an emergency operations center was also briefly discussed. Flood efforts will basically be coordinated through the County Emergency Manager’s Office. Morrie Saxerud, former mayor of Lisbon, has once again been designated as the flood efforts coordinator for the City. He will be designated as the person to handle correspondence with the National Guard, Army Corps of Engineers, and the Department of Transportation. Mayor Ross Cole will be the Public Information Officer (the person designated for media contact). Contact people for road condition updates will be Lamb, Kriel, and Sheriff Darren Benneweis.
Benneweis suggested that flood briefings be held early in the morning, as he felt that schedule had seemed to work well in the past. The Flood Hotline will once again be made available, with calls being handled by the Sheriff’s Office during the day and by Benneweis himself after hours.
The Forest Service will be contacted to see if it can help with tree removal, if that should become a necessity.
Lyons announced that the Corps of Engineers will be holding its annual Baldhill Dam release announcement meeting in Lisbon this spring. It has always before been in Valley City. The meeting, at which the final snow pack report and how to mange the upcoming melt will be discussed, will include representatives from communities below Baldhill Dam. The meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, March 9, at 10 a.m. at the Expo Center. The Sheyenne Joint Board will also be reorganizing at that time.
This story is complimentary to you by the writing staff of your Ransom County Gazette. To receive additional stories and photos, subscribe today by calling 1-866-702-9032.